The race to succeed New Jersey governor Chris Christie is beginning in earnest. Republican gubernatorial hopeful Jack Ciattarelli offered harsh criticism for his likely Democratic rival Phil Murphy for his use of a non-profit organization to jumpstart his campaign before it formally began Thursday, calling the unofficial campaign machinations unearthed by Wikileaks “the worst kept secret in New Jersey politics.”
The attacks mark the first time that Ciattarelli has spoken out against Murphy. At his campaign kickoff last month, the State Assemblyman declined to comment on Murphy’s sudden sweep of North Jersey Democratic organizations in the election’s early days.
Murphy, former U.S. ambassador to Germany and a one-time Goldman Sachs executive, founded 501(c)(4) organization New Start New Jersey in 2014. WNYC reported his March 2014 exchange with Hillary Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta, in which Murphy described the group as a way to boost his public profile in advance of his gubernatorial run. Wikileaks released the email as part of its mass publication of DNC emails in July.
“Just to let you know, our New Jersey political deliberations continue, quietly and intently,” Murphy wrote. “As there is no sense as to when the election will be (impeached? Resign to run for president? Neither?), we are likely to establish a policy-oriented c4 aimed at growing the NJ economy from $500 to $600 billion in 5 years. We are hoping that a platform like this will give us visibility, credentials, etc.”
The group is tax-exempt and is not reqired to disclose who its donors are. 501(c)(4) groups, which are allowed to engage in political activities as long as they serve another primary purpose, have proliferated across the country after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010. That ruling turned a tool of interest groups like the NRA and NAACP into a way for nonprofits to spend and receive unlimited amounts of money while actively campaigning.
Ciattarelli said in a statement that he intends to run without the “choreographed shallowness” that he attributed to the Murphy campaign and its use of the non-profit, a legal and ethical gray area.
“Frankly, it was embarrassing last year watching him hire political operatives and run a full-fledged cable advertising campaign, all the while trying to convince people it had nothing to do with him running for Governor,” Ciattarelli wrote.
“I chose not to go this direction because the only way to commence a campaign for Governor is by being honest and completely transparent with people. Anything short of that for any gubernatorial candidate sends exactly the wrong message at the worst possible time, particularly here in New Jersey.”
Murphy is now the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination in a race that many are calling the Democrats’ to lose after Republican Chris Christie’s two terms. While most of the Democrats’ deep gubernatorial bench have endorsed Murphy, Ciattarelli will likely face Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno for his party’s nomination.
Derek Roseman, communications director for the Murphy campaign, fired back by needling at Ciattarelli’s party affiliation with Christie.
“Perhaps Mr. Ciattarelli has been to busy scrubbing his past support for Chris Christie’s agenda from his resume to pay attention, but New Start New Jersey never spent one dime on cable advertising. Like Christie, he is entitled to his opinion but not to his own facts.”